Tuesday, February 28, 2006

New Open Access Journal portal

Open J-Gate (http://www.openj-gate.com/) is a portal and search engine for over 3000 open access (free web access) periodicals. Informatics India, Ltd, is a subscription database company specializing in business information and scholarly journals. Open J-Gate includes journals, magazines, trade journals, and newsletters from publishers around the world.

There is a basic keyword search on the main page, and the advanced search includes limiting to author, title, abstract, keyword and/or institution, plus limiting by year and by subject. You can also limit by "update", for instance only those articles loaded in the last week. Multiple keywords are treated as phrases (no need for quotes), and Boolean (AND, OR, NOT) searching is allowed, though there seems to be some discrepancies in the Boolean. I got 43 results for invasive species, 3 for invasive species AND california, and 42 for invasive species NOT california. AND and NOT searches should be complementary in pure Boolean searching.

Results include basic citation information plus keywords, a link to an abstract if available, and full text links to whatever formats are available via a drop down box. Full text opens in a new window, but abstracts open in the same window (so don't close the abstract window like I did!) There are check boxes to select particular records for viewing/printing (Internet Explorer only). The Viewing/Printing records will include abstracts if available on the J-Gate site, but not if the abstract is on an outside site.

The journal list overlaps with the Directory of Open Access Journals, but Open J-Gate has more articles (over 1 million vs. over 80 thousand as of today) available for direct searching (as opposed to subject access to the journal home pages). The DOAJ also specializes in peer-reviewed journals (current count 2065), while Open J-Gate has magazines and trade publications making up slightly less than half of the current publications (peer review count 1500+ of 3000+). Search both for best results.

This is a brand new site, and does have a few bugs as of this morning. The Next/Previous links on the results page don't go anywhere in Firefox. Luckily the GOTO, with dropdown for the pages of the results list, works just fine. The Select Records functions also don't work in Firefox. You can check the boxes, but the View and Print functions don't work. All functions do work in Internet Explorer and (slowly) in Opera.

Also, there are banner ads at the top of the results pages and an ad for the main paid access site on the right, but they aren't click through ads--they don't link anywhere. The main site banner (Open J-Gate) also doesn't link back to the home page, so if you get away from the search/results interface, it can be a bit confusing to get back. For instance, I accidentally closed the window with an abstract (same window as search), but I had a window with some marked records (new window from search). I couldn't get back to the results or even a new search page from the marked records. I suspect these will be corrected soon.

Informatics India is collecting feedback on Open J-Gate, so be sure to add your own if you experiment. I recommend using Internet Explorer only, for now.

Update: According to a message sent to the CHMINF-L listserv, Open J-Gate currently has articles only back to 2001.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Google Book and ILL

I love getting tips from students. And this is a good one: search Google Book and then InterLibrary Loan the book or chapter.

A little background: the Google Book Search, formerly Google Print, is the book scanning project that brought a spate of copyright protests and lawsuits (PDF) to Google's door over the last year or so. They scan the books, make a searchable index, and then show little snipits of text as search results. Just a few lines on most pages, though copyright holders can allow more. It's just enough to figure out if the reference is really to your topic or not, in most cases. There are links to new and used book sellers on each page, like Amazon and Alibris.

I wrote about Google Books, when it was still Google Print, back in Oct. 2004. There have been a few changes, besides the name. You may have to register to read some materials. (Anyone who wants to get a Gmail account to some additional benefits for registering, contact me!) Many results are now "snippits" (just a few lines) rather than pages. And you will now see Book Results at the top of many regular Google Searches. Just click the Book Results link to go into Google Book.

Now, I had somewhat realized the potential of this. For anyone who's worked with ILL, being able to search tables of contents and indexes (which is essentially what Google Book creates) creates amazing potential. Combine that with our ILL policy for distance students, which includes limited copying of print resources in our library, and we have some really intriguing possibilities. However, I hadn't thought of it as an actual tool for discovering new sources, and I hadn't tried it on any questions that I've gotten. That will change now. I also hadn't realized that it might include some of our own Reference Books, like the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science (library catalog record, Google Book link, vol 1).

A few caveats: Because of the lukewarm response from publishers, Google Book has an odd mixture of materials. The Google Library Project is contributing many books, but these lean towards older materials and special collections. Google seems to want publishers to contribute new materials. Since Google is scanning books from libraries, some...well...non-books make it through, too, because libraries often bind other materials and include them in their collections. I found what I think is the 1934 year of the magazine Recreation, but I can't be sure until we check the citation with our microfilm. Google has also made some arrangements with foreign publishers last year, but it's unclear how many books in non-English languages are now available from the publishers or the Library Project.

As always, searching can be a challenge, so be prepared to play around with your search terms and be sure to try the Advanced Search if things get sticky. If you have a particular book you want to try searching, find the ISBN number (from our library catalog records, Amazon.com, etc.) and enter it in the Advanced Search box for ISBN's. (And speaking of Amazon.com, don't forget their Search Inside the Book feature as a similar tool.)

And keep those tips coming!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Using textbooks in an online class

We've had a lot of textbook problems this semester. The campus bookstore moved in January, and they seem to have had a bunch of order errors, from lost orders to books showing up at Yale not SCSU. Plus the usual problems of students not being willing or able to spend that much money right at the beginning of the semester. Even online students seem to be having greater difficulty than usual actually getting a hold of required texts (slow shipping? bad timing? backorders?) Online students do have one advantage--online ordering is usually cheaper than buying in a campus bookstore (about 15% for the books I've checked so far.) Of course, you have to wait to get it, and express shipping eliminates any price advantage.

Other people must be having the same sort of trouble, because there have been a flurry of posts and articles about online textbooks, and the use of textbooks in general. First I saw an announcement about a new publishing platform, Freeload Press*. They publish textbooks as free ebooks and inexpensive ($25-35) paperbacks. Right now their catalog includes just a few accounting and finance texts. The books will have ads, but the publisher promises no "interference with the integrity of the content". They are quite new (launched Feb 2005), so longevity is a question, but it's an intriguing concept for an instructor with an idea for a textbook.

I also saw another notice from WikiBooks. WikiBooks is an offshoot of Wikipedia, and follows the same philosophy of community editing. Books are freely editable by anyone willing to register, so you need to keep an eye on the content. I would give the same advice as with Wikipedia, that users learn to take advantage of the revision history functions in the Wiki engine. In fact, if you created/used a WikiBook as a textbook you might want to link to a particular revision date, while explaining the editing function to your students. Or, this might be an opportunity to really engage the students in learning, by having them create their own textbook. A similar site is WikiTextbook in the UK.

The CHMINF-L listserv has been discussing the readability of e-books with regards to the future of libraries. Are online textbooks worth creating if no one wants to read them? (Even if they are cheaper?)

And that brought up a thought-provoking piece by Rob Reynolds on XplanaZine, The Relevance of Textbooks. Why do we use textbooks? Are they merely collections of relevant texts, which could be gathered in some other way (like a online reading list)? Do they structure your course? (And does this mean that the publisher is structuring your course for you?)

The "crisis" in college textbooks could be seen as an opportunity for faculty to take control of their course materials back from the textbook publishers. With organizations like Pearson Custom Publishing* for collecting previously published content, the proliferation of online, linkable materials like WikiBooks, our full text databases and electronic reserves, or open access materials, the power of courseware like WebCT to allow creation of digital texts that include multimedia, faculty now have a great variety of tools to create and/or assemble their own course materials.

If you are thinking of "banishing the textbook" from your course, be sure to read "Toss the Text" from Edutopia, and the accompanying article "No Books, No Problem". While it's aimed at pre-college teachers, a lot of the same issues are true for college instructors: organization, copying/scanning, the time it will take to find (and later update) materials, etc.

As a final note for faculty: as you contemplate the migration from WebCT Campus Edition to WebCT Vista, you may be dismayed by the idea of moving your course content. Now is the time to start thinking about reorganizing your courses, so maybe it's time to think about your textbooks, too.

*I often link to specific commercial sites as examples. This is not an endorsement or recommendation, and if I have any 'conflict of interest' I will state it.